Copy-editing - with exercises and model answers

by Barbara Horn (London: Horn Editorial Books/Publishing Training Centre, 2008): 435pp, ISBN 978 0 9553404 1 3. (This book is now out of print.)

Reviewed by Anne Waddingham


Another addition to Barbara Horn's self-publishing stable, this time in conjunction with the Publishing Training Centre (PTC), Copy-editing is based on PTC's successful distance-learning course.

It is aimed at proofreaders who want to progress to editing, and editors who want to learn and improve their skills.

Exercises, follow-up and answers

The introduction focuses on the publishing environment, the stages of production and editing tools. Subsequent chapters cover marking up, grammar and punctuation, the different parts of a publication, copyright and other legal issues, style and level, specialist texts, tables, technical figures and copy-fitting and endmatter.

Each chapter has exercises within it to test your understanding, follow-up text that discusses the crucial points of the exercise and model answers at the back of the book. There is also a glossary and bibliography, details of editors' organisations worldwide and a short list of pertinent websites.

Dry humour and good judgement

I like Barbara's didactic style, though it might not suit everyone, and inevitably there are a few points with which I disagree. There are flashes of dry humour to enliven the prose: we're told not to scoff at authors who acknowledge their pets and instructed to laugh at anyone who calls endmatter 'endlims' (as in 'prelims') – quite right too.

I applaud the emphasis on good judgement: 'Copy-editing is about thinking and making appropriate choices, not merely following rules' – something I feel that clients often underestimate when placing editorial work. This book goes some way towards helping editors sharpen that judgement, and providing understanding of the process, not merely accepting 'the way it's done'.

A minor carp

There is a wide range of exercise material, from general to more technical, and Barbara comes up with some imaginative ways of testing the reader's knowledge on the topic in question, with some tricky bits slipped in to find out if you were really paying attention. A minor carp is the print quality of the model answers. The addition of exercise numbers in the running heads in this section would have been helpful for navigation.

Differences are usefully highlighted between fiction and non-fiction, conventional versus on-screen editing and UK and American usage, although not in any great depth.

The chapter on grammar and punctuation doesn't aim to be a comprehensive guide but it does tackle many of the thorny problems, such as 'which/that', 'due to' and punctuation around quotations, as well as giving guidance on preserving the 'author's voice'. I liked the suggestion that separating clauses with either commas, parentheses or dashes can be thought of as 'quiet', 'whisper' or 'shout'.

Blow by blow

The explanation of the different parts of a publication is useful - do you know what an ISMN is? (It's an ISBN for music.) The complexities of copyright law and other legal issues are nicely dealt with in 12 succinct pages. Style issues cover capitalisation, italics and numbers, and there are good suggestions for lowering or raising the readership level as appropriate, without losing the author's voice.

'Specialist text' here includes poetry, plays, manuals and jackets/covers, and would be a useful starting point for those unfamiliar with these kinds of copy. It is reassuring to be told that tables are not difficult and to be given a blow-by-blow list of how to edit them, although I disagree that tables can be flagged for the typesetter by inserting a text box in the electronic file – this will give him/her extra headaches. Clear instructions are given for dealing with technical figures, including graphs and maps, and for cutting and expanding text.

Standing the test of time

The paper is quite thick and it makes a substantial wedge that doesn't fall open easily – however, the binding stood up well to some punishment and, it is to be hoped, will stand the test of time.

I think this book fulfils its purpose of easing the proofreader into the copy-editor's role, and will fill gaps in the knowledge of more experienced editors or those seeking advice when venturing into unfamiliar territory. I can't say that it would be a preferential purchase over Butcher's Copy-editing, but I would rank it above Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies (Wiley, 2007).

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